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Bipartisan Senate Gang Begins To Sell Immigration Plan

Following the defeat of comprehensive gun control legislation, a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators on Thursday outlined a wide-reaching immigration overhaul introduced this week.

The 844-page bill, crafted to address the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally -- as well as intensifying pressure from the business community to expand visa programs for highly skilled foreign workers -- is expected to be debated over the coming months.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., earlier Thursday pledged to set aside "ample time for discussion and consideration of this legislation."

Reid, who characterized the gun legislation defeat Wednesday in the Senate as a "notable and stunning defeat of bipartisanship," said the immigration bill is a document of compromise that he will work to get "across the finish line.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the Republican key to the bill's success, has already begun beating back harsh criticism from conservatives, who object to pathways to citizenship the bill would create. Some critics characterize it as tantamount to amnesty.

Immigrant advocates have also taken issue with parts of the bill, including proposals that would expand the number of high-skilled-worker visas at the expense of "family unification" visas issued to foreign family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

The eight senators who crafted the legislation were Rubio and fellow Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Democrats Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

Some highlights:

Path To Citizenship And Border Security

  • Temporary status available to qualified undocumented immigrants when border security and fencing benchmarks are reached.
  • Require background checks, fingerprints, $2,000 in fines, pay taxes, prove employment and physical presence in U.S. before 2012, and a start at the "back of the line" to qualify for temporary status.
  • Permanent resident status available after 10 years, provided border security and employment verification "triggers" met; no federal benefits during temporary status; and applicant proves he or she is earning 25 percent above poverty line.
  • Status revoked if applicant commits serious crime, fails to comply with work, tax, and physical presence requirements.

DREAM Act Young Undocumented Immigrants

  • Create five-year path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants brought by parents to U.S. illegally or in the country on expired visas.

Revamp Visa Programs, From Farm Workers To Entrepreneurs

  • Up to 10,000 new "start up" visas for foreign entrepreneurs who create a minimum of five jobs and raise a half million dollars from investors.
  • More visas for highly skilled foreigners with advanced degrees.
  • Increase the number of H-1B visas awarded annually from 65,000 to 110,000, in part to bump up to 25,000 visas available for those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  • Eliminate "certain categories" of family immigration preferences, and eliminate diversity visa lottery.
  • Require business owners to use a Labor Department posting website to seek out American workers before taking foreign workers.
  • Establish low-skilled guest-worker program and new agricultural-guest-worker visa program that allows undocumented farm workers to obtain legal status.
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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